TAMPA — Just two blocks east of the newly renovated Water Works Park — the crown jewel in Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s redevelopment plan for a prominent stretch of the city’s riverfront — quiet North Franklin Street is mostly vacant.
But volunteers, along with members of the Tampa Heights Civic Association and Congress for New Urbanism, have big plans for the half-mile stretch of road.
The groups threw a block party Saturday to demonstrate what they think the area could become — with a little bit of work.
Posters were taped to the windows of vacant storefronts depicting what sort of businesses could move onto Franklin Street, including a bakery, pet shop and gymnasium. Food trucks were spread out along the road and existing businesses opened their doors for tours.
“We feel this is a great part of the neighborhood that is under-served and under-utilized,” said Donald Morrison, a volunteer who helped coordinate the event. “We just wanted to showcase the potential of it.”
The event was part of Tampa’s inaugural Better Block project, organizers said. Better Block is a nationwide, grass-roots movement to encourage urban redevelopment through small-scale improvements and community involvement.
Organizers got the idea of using the Better Block model after learning about it from a TED Talk video online.
The historic Tampa Heights neighborhood is an area in which the city has been investing, and a Better Block campaign will help the community keep that momentum going, said Kasi Martin, the event’s marketing coordinator. The city’s revitalization effort hasn’t yet “trickled” over to Franklin Street.
“We’re putting the seed in people’s mind,” she said.
The stretch of road, just north of downtown and Interstate 275, is peppered with light-colored brick buildings that date to the 1920s, including the Rialto Theatre. It is sandwiched between parallel Tampa Street and Florida Avenue, two main arteries in and out of downtown.
During the day, Morrison said, people park their cars there before heading to work downtown. At night, homeless people gather at nearby Metropolitan Ministries and The Salvation Army.
“It’s not a vibrant space at all, but it certainly can be,” Morrison said.
The Better Block volunteers have dubbed it “Yellow Brick Row,” and hope that name will stick as they work to improve and market the neighborhood.
Saturday’s party was just the first step in the street’s renaissance, organizers said. They were trying to get people who never had been to the area to come out and learn about their ideas.
It caught the attention of Gabby Salas, who heard of the event on the news and decided to come with a friend.
She never had been on this part of Franklin Street, and was impressed by the old buildings. She snapped up a menu from the nearby Ulele Restaurant, which had a booth with free beer samples.
The block party was a cool way to generate community interest in the area’s redevelopment, something Salas said would be great for the neighborhood.
“I think it has tons of potential for that,” she said.